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Woman not guilty in Schenectady stabbing

Jury says defendant not responsible because of mental illness

Friday, March 28, 2014
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— A Schenectady County Court jury sided with the defense Thursday, finding the woman accused of trying to stab a cab driver to death last year not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

The verdict, handed down after more than 21⁄2 days of deliberations, means 19-year-old Desere D. Shaw of Gloversville will remain in custody pending a hearing to determine if she should be committed to a mental hospital for treatment.

That hearing, which has yet to be scheduled, is expected to be held within 40 days. She was tried on attempted murder, first-degree assault and other counts.

The verdict means the jury found Shaw had attacked cab driver Derek Leach with a knife on Feb. 7, 2013 on Eastern Avenue, leaving him with life-threatening wounds. The wounded Leach had to seek out assistance on his own, finally finding help at the downtown branch of the library.

The jury, though, found Shaw not criminally responsible by reason of her mental illness.

If she is sent to a mental institution, she would only be released if she is determined not to be a danger to herself or others, her attorney Michael Braccini said.

Shaw would then be under a lifetime order that could send her back to a mental hospital if she ever stops taking her medications or her condition warrants it, Braccini said.

The trial was marked by experts on both sides testifying to opposite conclusions over Shaw’s criminal responsibility.

Shaw exhibited odd behavior throughout the trial. She could be seen eating candy wrappers, paper cups and even tissues. She ate the tissues during her attorney’s closing arguments, prompting Judge Karen Drago, outside of the presence of the jury, to have the tissues removed from the defense table.

Shaw had been prescribed medications to control her mental condition, described by her attorney in closing arguments as bipolar with psychotic features. But she was not on her medications at the time of the attack, Braccini told the jury. Her mother had lost her insurance and Shaw stopped getting her medication, he said.

Leach, who testified and attended much of the trial, still has a scar on his face and lingering effects, including numbness.

Braccini said the verdict was the best one for Shaw.

“She didn’t need state prison, she needed help,” Braccini said. “This will get her the help that she needs.”

Had the jury sided with the prosecution and found Shaw criminally responsible for her actions, she would have faced up to 25 years in state prison.

The case was prosecuted by Michael DeMatteo of the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office. He could not be reached for comment afterward.

In his closing, DeMatteo argued that having a mental illness, in and of itself, is not a defense or excuse.

DeMatteo noted that Shaw reported hearing voices, but he argued that she had shown that the voices didn’t control her. She chose many times not to follow the commands of others, he said.

Leach, a driver for Glove City Transportation in Gloversville, picked up Shaw at the Johnstown Price Chopper that night and dropped her off on Nott Terrace, near the Schaffer Heights Apartments in Schenectady, where the attack occurred.

The injured Leach sought help at the Schenectady County Public Library, police said. Staff called 911 and he was eventually taken to Albany Medical Center by a MedFlight helicopter.

Police followed a trail of blood back to Eastern and Nott, leading them to believe that was where Leach was stabbed.

His taxi was found after the stabbing with its engine running at the corner of Windsor Terrace and Prospect Street.

 
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